US East Coast in Irene’s path, scrambles to prep

NASSAU, (Reuters) – The northeast U.S. seaboard,  including the capital, Washington, and financial center New  York, rushed to prepare yesterday for a possible mauling from  powerful Hurricane Irene this weekend.

From the Carolinas to Cape Cod, more than 50 million people  were potentially in Irene’s path. States, cities, ports,  industries, oil refineries and nuclear plants scrambled to  activate emergency plans, while residents stocked up on food  and water and worked to secure homes, vehicles and boats.

The U.S. Navy sent the ships of its Second Fleet out of  port at Hampton Roads, Virginia, to ride out the expected  powerful storm at sea.

Irene, a major Category 3 hurricane, battered the low-lying  Bahamas southeast of Florida yesterday and was expected to  sweep northward to hit the North Carolina coast tomorrow,  before raking the remaining Atlantic seaboard.

“All the major metropolitan areas along the Northeast are  going to be impacted,” National Hurricane Center Director Bill  Read told Reuters Insider. “Being a large hurricane, tropical  storm-force winds will extend far inland.”

President Barack Obama declared a state of emergency in  North Carolina, authorizing federal aid to support the state’s  storm response.

After hitting North Carolina, Irene was expected to weaken  to a still-dangerous Category 2 storm on the five-step  Saffir-Simpson intensity scale, still strong enough to slam  dozens of Atlantic beach communities in Delaware, Maryland and  Virginia this weekend before heading to New York on Monday. A  Category 2 storm carries winds of 96 to 110 mph (154-177 kph).

Read said Irene could mimic the path of Hurricane Gloria in  1985, a Category 3 storm that hit North Carolina’s Outer Banks  and then slammed into New York’s Long Island and curved through  New England, causing $900 million of damage.

U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator  Craig Fugate briefed Obama and other top officials on the  threat from Irene, which included tropical-storm-force winds or  worse in Washington.

Irene forced the cancellation of Sunday’s dedication  ceremony for the new memorial honouring civil rights leader  Martin Luther King Jr. on the National Mall in Washington. Tens  of thousands of people, including Obama, had had been expected  to attend.

Coastal evacuations were under way in North Carolina and  were ordered for beach resorts in Virginia, Delaware and  Maryland. Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell urged residents to  seek shelter by tonight, before the winds kick up.

“Saturday is going to be a horrendous day for travel. There  will be roads and bridges closed,” he said.

Hurricane watches and warnings were in effect along the  Atlantic coast from North Carolina to New Jersey. The governors  of North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey,  New York and Connecticut declared emergencies for Irene.

“From a flooding perspective, this could be a hundred-year  event,” New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said.

New York readies

Irene will be the first hurricane to hit the U.S. mainland  since Ike pounded Texas in 2008.

At 8 p.m. EDT (midnight GMT), Irene had sustained winds of  115 miles per hour (185 kph) and its centre was about 530 miles  (930 km) south-southwest of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the United States’  most populous city was bracing to experience at least tropical  storm conditions and flooding starting on Sunday. Irene could  hit Long Island, which extends due east from the city, as a  Category 2 hurricane.

The city was positioning rescue boats and helicopters and  working to minimize street flooding. Hospitals and nursing  homes in low-lying areas were ordered to evacuate unless they  obtained permission to stay open.

“The city has already seen the power of Mother Nature once  this week, and Mother Nature may not be done with us yet,”  Bloomberg said, referring to Tuesday’s earthquake that shook  the East Coast, frightening millions but causing no deaths.

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